Waymo Will Launch Fully Driverless Cars This Year; the Critics are Not Amused
Waymo, which is Google’s autonomous car project, is planning to launch the very first truly driverless taxi service in the American city of Phoenix, Arizona, within the next three months. This is no pilot project or study, nor is it some cheap publicity stunt. This is going to be a full-blown public launch of a commercial service. And, did we mention already, without a safety driver!
Up to now, there has been very little regulatory oversight of any of the self-driving car projects, including Waymo’s technology, in the US of A, which may well be due to the international rush to be the first country to develop the technology. Critics argue that if a company wants to sell a new car or plane or just about anything, there is an extensive list of safety checks that need to be satisfied. So, there should be some safety regulations for autonomous cars as well.
Currently, though, the American Federal Government (you know, the one based over in Washington DC) has no safety regulations that govern self-driving cars. Rather, they have left it up to the State Legislature to take the lead, and so Arizona will allow Waymo to introduce the cars, without a driver, without any formal process being undertaken.
This is no oversight, either. Under both the Obama and Trump administrations, the Federal Government has decided to take a very hands-off approach, judging that too much government interference would do more harm than good. In fact, it is almost as if the politicians have removed common-sense considerations to make it easier to roll out self-driving cars, regardless of any safety issue.
Of course, the cars need to comply with the US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which is the one that states things like seatbelts and lights and rearview mirrors need to be firmly attached. So, Waymo is going to use vehicles that already satisfy those regulations by retro-fitting Chrysler Pacifica mini-vans. We suppose that Chrysler will stop putting steering wheels in them some time next year.
The lack of regulations will be seen as a major boost to the industry. It will also speed up the entire process, which in an industry that seems to be moving so fast will be a good thing. Thus, developing the technology in the US of A will make sense and keep jobs at home, and at least a part of a future industry there.
Advocates of Autonomous Mobility on Demand (AMOD) believe that the introduction of self-driving cars will significantly reduce road deaths, reduce congestion and, of course, will be a good way to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. The trouble is with any new technology, it needs to be safe before you can let the great unwashed public get into it, and right now we cannot be sure that Waymo has it all worked out.